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Conservative group sues to block Dallas’ paid sick-leave ordinance

Implementation of similar policies in Austin and San Antonio have been put on hold due to lawsuits.

Downtown Dallas, Texas.

An Austin-based conservative think tank has sued on behalf of two businesses to block a Dallas ordinance requiring businesses to offer their employees paid sick leave.

The federal lawsuit by the Texas Public Policy Foundation comes two days before the ordinance was set to go into effect. In a statement, the group’s general counsel, Robert Henneke, said Dallas’ ordinance “extends regulatory power outside of its city limits.” He added that the lawsuit “should not have been necessary” considering a similar ordinance in Austin is on hold after an appeals court deemed it unconstitutional in 2018.

The lawsuit comes nearly a week after city officials and business groups agreed to postpone the implementation of San Antonio's sick-leave ordinance from August until December. A spokesman for the city argued the delay would give San Antonio a chance to refine the proposal.

“Given the constitutional defects of such mandates, the leadership of San Antonio did the right thing and agreed to pause the implementation of its own paid sick leave ordinance,” Henneke said. “If only Dallas had the foresight to work with the business community, we wouldn’t be in court today.”

Dallas’ ordinance is similar to ones city leaders in both San Antonio and Austin put in place. The rule requires one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours an employee works. Workers would be able to accrue up to 64 hours of paid sick leave each year.

For employers with fewer than 15 workers, the amount would be capped at 48 hours, or six paid sick days. Henneke told The Texas Tribune that it’s unclear whether the lawsuit will prompt the city to delay implementation of its paid sick leave proposal, which is set to take effect Aug. 1. Chris Caro, the interim city attorney, told The Dallas Morning News that the city is currently reviewing the lawsuit but officials so far have not indicated that they plan to reconsider, or halt, the policy’s implementation.

While those spearheading the proposals have touted the ordinances as beneficial to workers and public health, some business leaders have argued that they violate the Texas Minimum Wage Act, which business groups claim “explicitly prevents localities from requiring private employers to pay more” than minimum wage.

“This is a desperate 11th hour attempt to rob 300,000 Dallas residents of the right to take a day off work when they get sick,” said Jose Garza, co-executive director of Workers Defense Action Fund. “We support the City Attorney’s effort to vigorously defend paid sick time and urge City Council to stand with the people of Dallas who urgently need and expect to have paid sick time beginning on August 1.”

Despite pushback from advocates, TPPF’s challenge to the city’s ordinance is not entirely surprising. Henneke previously sent a letter to the Dallas city attorney’s office threatening to sue if city officials didn’t follow in San Antonio’s footsteps and delay the implementation of its ordinance.

Henneke said Dallas denied the request.

Opponents of the ordinances have been forced to litigate the issue after the Legislature failed to pass a bill this year that would’ve made the ordinances illegal.

Disclosure: The Texas Public Policy Foundation has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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